The Armless Man
- Editor C.
I first met Bob Masters in the hotel at a place
called Fourteen Streams, not very far from
I had for some months been trying to find gold
or diamonds by digging holes in the veldt. But
since this has little or nothing to do with the
story, I pass by my mining adventures and come
back to the hotel. I came to it very readily
that afternoon, for I was very thirsty.
A tall man standing at the bar turned his head
as I entered and said "Good-day" to me. I
returned the compliment, but took no particular
notice of him at first.
Suddenly I heard the man say to the barman:
"I'm ready for another drink."
That surprised me, because his glass was
still three-quarters full. But I was still more
startled by the action of the barman who lifted
up the glass and held it whilst the man drank.
Then I saw the reason. The man had no arms.
You know the easy way in which Englishmen
chum together anywhere out of England, whilst
in their native country nothing save a formal
introduction will make them acquainted? I
made some remark to Masters which led to
another from him, and in five minutes' time we
were chatting on all sorts of topics.
I learnt that Masters, bound for England,
had come in to Fourteen Streams to catch the
train from Kimberley, and, having a few hours
to wait, had strolled up to the collection of tin
huts calling itself a town.
I was going down to Kimberley too, so of course
we went together, and were quite old friends
by the time we reached that city.
We had a wash and something to eat, and then
we walked round to the post-office. I used to
have my letters addressed there, poste restante,
and call in for them when I happened to be in
I found several letters, one of which altered
the whole course of my life. This was from
Messrs. Harvey, Filson, and Harvey, solicitors,
Lincoln's Inn Fields. It informed me that the
sudden death of my cousin had so affected my
uncle's health that he had followed his only son
within the month. The senior branch of the
family being thus extinct the whole of the entailed
estate had devolved on me.
The first thing I did was to send off two cablegrams
to say that I was coming home by the
first available boat, one to the solicitors, the other
to Nancy Milward.
Masters and I arranged to come home together
and eventually reached Cape Town. There we
had considerable trouble at the shipping office.
It was just about the time of year when people
who live in Africa to make money, come over
to England to spend it, and in consequence the
boats were very crowded. Masters demanded
a cabin to himself, a luxury which was not to
be had, though there was one that he and I
could share. He made a tremendous fuss about
doing this, and I thought it very strange, because
I had assisted him in many ways which his mutilation
rendered necessary. However, he had to
give way in the end, and we embarked on the
On the voyage he told me how he had lost
his arms. It seemed that he had been sent
up country on some Government job or other,
and had had the ill-fortune to be captured by
the natives. They treated him quite well at
first, but gave him to understand that he must
not try to escape. I suppose that to most men
such a warning would be a direct incitement
to make the attempt. Masters made it and failed.
They cut off his right arm as a punishment.
He waited until the wound was healed and tried
again. Again he failed. This time they cut
off his other arm.
"Good Lord," I cried. "What devils!"
"Weren't they!" he said. "And yet, you
know, they were quite good-tempered chaps
when you didn't cross them. I wasn't going
to be beaten by a lot of naked niggers though,
and I made a third attempt.
"I succeeded all right that time, though, of
course, it was much more difficult. I really
don't know at all how I managed to worry
through. You see, I could only eat plants and
leaves and such fruit as I came across; but I'd
learnt as much as I could of the local botany
in the intervals."
"Was it worth while?" I asked. "I think
the first failure and its result would have satisfied
"Yes," he said slowly, "it was worth while.
You see, my wife was waiting for me at home,
and I wanted to see her again very badly—you
don't know how badly."
"I think I can imagine," I said. "Because
there is a girl waiting for me too at home."
"I saw her before she died," he continued.
"Died?" I said.
"Yes," he answered. "She was dying when
I reached home at last, but I was with her at the
end. That was something, wasn't it?"
I do hate people to tell me this sort of thing.
Not because I do not feel sorry for them; on the
contrary, I feel so sorry that I absolutely fail
to find words to express my sympathy. I
tried, however, to show it in other ways, by the
attentions I paid him and by anticipating his
Yet there were many things that were astonishing
about his actions, things that I wonder
now I did not realise must have been impossible
for him to do for himself, and that yet were done.
But he was so surprisingly dexterous with his
lips, and feet too, when he was in his cabin that
I suppose I put them down to that.
I remember waking up one night and looking
out of my bunk to see him standing on the
floor. The cabin was only faintly lit by a moonbeam
which found its way through the porthole.
I could not see clearly, but I fancied that he
walked to the door and opened it, and closed
it behind him. He did it all very quickly, as
quickly as I could have done it. As I say,
I was very sleepy, but the sight of the door
opening and shutting like that woke me
thoroughly. Sitting up I shouted at him.
He heard me and opened the door again, easily,
too, much more easily than he seemed to be able
to shut it when he saw me looking at him.
"Hullo! Awake, old chap?" he said.
"What is it?"
"Er—nothing," I said. "Or rather I suppose
I was only half awake; but you seemed to open
that door so easily that it quite startled me."
"One does not always like to let others see
the shifts to which one has to resort," was all
the answer he gave me.
But I worried over it. The thing bothered me,
because he had made no attempt to explain.
That was not the only thing I noticed.
Two or three days later we were sitting together
on deck. I had offered to read to him. I
noticed that he got up out of his chair. Suddenly
I saw the chair move. It gave me a great shock,
for the chair twisted apparently of its own
volition, so that when he sat down again the
sunlight was at his back and not in his eyes,
as I knew it had been previously. But I reasoned
with myself and managed to satisfy myself that
he must have turned the chair round with his
foot. It was just possible that he could have
done so, for it had one of those light wicker-work
We had a lovely voyage for three-quarters
of the way, and the sea was as calm as any duck-pond.
But that was all altered when we passed
Cape Finisterre. I have done a lot of knocking
about on the ocean one way and another, but
I never saw the Bay of Biscay deserve its reputation
I'd much rather see what is going on than be
cooped up below, and after lunch I told Bob
I was going up on deck.
"I'll only stay there for a bit," I said. "You
make yourself comfortable down here."
I filled his pipe, put it in his mouth, and gave
him a match; then I left him.
I made my way up and down the deck for a
time, clutching hold of everything handy, and
rather enjoyed it, though the waves drenched
me to the skin.
Presently I saw Masters come out of the companion-way
and make his way very skilfully
towards me. Of course it was fearfully dangerous
I staggered towards him, and, putting my
lips to his ear, shouted to him to go below at
"Oh, I shall be all right!" he said, and
"You'll be drowned—drowned," I screamed.
"There was a wave just now that—well, if I
hadn't been able to cling on with both hands
like grim death, I should have gone overboard.
He laughed again and shook his head.
And then what I dreaded happened. A vast
mountain of green water lifted up its bulk and
fell upon us in a ravening cataract. I clutched
at Masters, but trying to save him and myself
handicapped me badly. The strength of that
mass of water was terrible. It seemed to snatch
at everything with giant hands, and drag all
with it. It tossed a hen-coop high, and carried
it through the rails.
I felt the grip of my right hand loosen, and the
next instant was carried, still clutching Masters
with my left, towards that gap in the bulwark.
I managed to seize the end of the broken rail.
It held us for a moment, then gave, and for a
moment I hung sheer over the vessel's side.
In that instant I felt fingers tighten on my
arm, tighten till they bit into the flesh, and I
was pulled back into safety.
Together we staggered back, and got below
somehow. I was trembling like a leaf, and the
sweat dripped from me. I almost screamed aloud.
It was not that I was frightened of death.
I've seen too much of that in many parts of the
earth to dread it greatly. It was the thought
of those fingers tightening on me where no
Masters did not speak a word, nor did I, until
we found ourselves in the cabin.
I tore the wet clothes off me and turned my
arm to the mirror. I knew I could not have
been mistaken when I felt them.
There on the upper arm, above the line of
sunburn that one gets from working with sleeves
rolled up, there on the white skin showed the
red marks of four slender fingers and a thumb!
I sat down suddenly at sight of them, and
pulling open a drawer, found a flask of neat
brandy, and gulped it down, emptied it in one
Then I turned to him and pointed to the marks.
"In God's name, how came these here?"
I said. "What—what happened up there
He looked at me very gravely.
"I saved you," he said, "or rather I didn't,
for I could not. But she did."
"What do you mean?" I stammered.
"Let me get these clothes off," he said, "and
some dry ones on; and I'll tell you."
Words fail to describe my feelings as I
watched the clothes come off him and dry ones
go on just as if hands were arranging them.
I sat and shuddered. I tried to close my eyes,
but the weird, unnatural sight drew them as
"I'm sorry that you should have had this
shock," he said. "I know what it must have
been like, though it was not so bad for me when
they seemed to come, for they came gradually
as time went on."
"What came gradually?" I asked.
"Why, these arms! They're what I'm telling
you about. You asked me to tell you, I
"Did I?" I said. "I don't know what I'm
saying or asking. I think I'm going mad,
"No," he said, "you're as sane as I am, only
when you come across something strange, unique
for that matter, you are naturally terrified.
Well, it was like this. I told you about my
adventures with the niggers up country. That
was quite true. They cut off both my arms—you
can see the stumps for that matter. And I
told you that I came home to find my wife dying.
Her heart had always been weak, I'd known
that, and it had gradually grown more feeble.
There must have been, indeed there was, a strange
sort of telepathy between us. She had had
fearful attacks of heart failure on both occasions
when the niggers had mutilated me, I learnt
on comparing notes.
"But I had known too, somehow, that I must
escape at all costs. It was the knowledge that
made me try again after each failure. I should
have gone on trying to escape as long as I had
lived, or rather as long as she had lived. I knelt
beside her bed and she put out her arms and
laid them round my neck.
"'So you have come back to me before I
go,' she said. 'I knew you must, because I
called you so. But you have been long in coming,
almost too long. But I knew I had to see you
again before I died.'
"I broke down then. I was sorely tried.
No arms even to put round her!
"'Darling, stay with me for a little, only for
a little while!' I sobbed.
"She shook her head feebly. 'It is no use,
my dear,' she said, 'I must go.'
"'I'll come with you,' I said, 'I'll not live
"She shook her head again.
"'You must be brave, Bob. I shall be
watching you afterwards just as much as if I
still lived on earth. If only I could give you
my arms! A poor, weak woman's arms, but
better than none, dear.'
"She died some weeks later. I spent all the
time at her bedside, I hardly left her. Her
arms were round me when she died. Shall I
ever feel them round me again? I wonder!
You see, they are mine now.
"They came to me gradually. It was very
strange at first to have arms and hands which
one couldn't see. I used to keep my eyes shut
as much as possible, and try to fancy that I
had never lost my arms.
"I got used to them in time. But I have
always been careful not to let people see me
do things that they would know to be impossible
for an armless man. That was what took me
to Africa again, because I could get lost there
and do things for myself with these hands."
"'And they twain shall be one flesh,'" I
"Yes," he said, "I think the explanation
must be something of that sort. There's more
than that in it, though; these arms are other
He sat silent for a time with his head bowed
on his chest. Then he spoke again:
"I got sick of being alone at last, and was
coming back when I met you at Fourteen Streams.
I don't know what I shall do when I do get
home. I can never rest. I have—what do
they call it—Wanderlust?"
"Does she ever speak to you from that other
world?" I asked him.
He shook his head sadly.
"No, never. But I know she lives somewhere
beyond this world of ours. She must,
because these arms live. So I try always to
act as if she watches everything. I always
try to do the right thing, but, anyway, these
arms and hands would do good of their own
accord. Just now up on the deck I was very
frightened. I'd have saved myself at any cost
almost, and let you go. But I could not do
that. The hands clutched you. It is her will,
so much stronger and purer than mine, that
still persists. It is only when she does not
exert it that I control these arms."
That was how I learnt the strangest tale that
ever a man was told, and knew the miracle to
which I owed my life.
It may be that Bob Masters was a coward.
He always said that he was. Personally I do
not believe it, for he had the sweetest nature
I ever met.
He had nowhere to go to in England and
seemed to have no friends. So I made him come
down with me to Englehart, that dear old country
seat of my family in the Western shires which
was now mine.
Nancy lived in that country, too.
There was no reason why we should not get
married at once. We had waited long enough.
I can see again the old, ivy-grown church
where Nancy and I were wed, and Bob Masters
standing by my side as best man.
I remember feeling in his pocket for the ring,
and as I did so, I felt a hand grasp mine for a
Then there was the reception afterwards, and
speech-making—the usual sort of thing.
Later Nancy and I drove off to the station.
We had not said good-bye to Bob, for he'd
insisted on driving to the station with the luggage;
said he was going to see the last of us there.
He was waiting for us in the yard when we
reached it, and walked with us on to the platform.
We stood there chatting about one thing
and another, when I noticed that Nancy was
not talking much and seemed rather pale. I
was just going to remark on it when we
heard the whistle of the train. There is a sharp
curve in the permanent way outside the station,
so that a train is on you all of a sudden.
Suddenly to my horror I saw Nancy sway
backwards towards the edge of the platform.
I tried vainly to catch her as she reeled and
fell—right in front of the oncoming train. I
sprang forward to leap after her, but hands
grasped me and flung me back so violently
that I fell down on the platform.
It was Bob Masters who took the place that
should have been mine, and leapt upon the
I could not see what happened then. The
station-master says he saw Nancy lifted from
before the engine when it was right upon her.
He says it was as if she was lifted by the wind.
She was quite close to Masters. "Near enough
for him to have lifted her, sir, if he'd had arms."
The two of them staggered for a moment, and
together fell clear of the train.
Nancy was little the worse for the awful
accident, bruised, of course, but poor Masters
We carried him into the waiting-room, laid him
on the cushions there, and sent hot-foot
for the doctor.
He was a good country practitioner, and, I
suppose, knew the ordinary routine of his work
quite well. He fussed about, hummed and
hawed a lot.
"Yes, yes," he said, as if he were trying to
persuade himself. "Shock, you know. He'll
be better presently. Lucky, though, that he
had no arms."
I noticed then, for the first time, that the
sleeves of the coat had been shorn away.
"Doctor," I said, "how is he? Surely,
if he isn't hurt he would not look like that.
What exactly do you mean by shock?"
"Hum—er," he hesitated, and applied his
stethoscope to Masters' heart again.
"The heart is very weak," he said at length.
"Very weak. He's always very anæmic, I
"No," I answered. "He's anything but that.
He's——Good Lord, he's bleeding to death!
Put ligatures on his arms. Put ligatures on
"Please keep quiet, Mr. Riverston," the
doctor said. "It must have been a dreadful
experience for you, and you are naturally very
I raved and cursed at him. I think I should
have struck him, but the others held me. They
said they would take me away if I did not keep
Bob Masters opened his eyes presently, and
saw them holding me.
"Please let him go," he said. "It's all right,
old man. It's no use your arguing with them,
they would not understand. I could never
explain to them now, and they would never
believe you. Besides, it's all for the best. Yes,
the train went over them and I'm armless for
the second time. But—not for long!"
I knelt by his side and sobbed. It all seemed
so dreadful, and yet, I don't think that then
I would have tried to stay his passing. I knew
it was best for him.
He looked at me very affectionately.
"I'm so sorry that this should happen on
your wedding-day," he said. "But it would
have been so much worse for you if she had
His voice grew fainter and died away.
There was a pause for a time, and his breath
came in great sighing sobs.
Then suddenly he raised himself on the cushions
until he stood upright on his feet, and a smile
broke over his face—a smile so sweet that I
think the angels in Paradise must look like that.
His voice came strong and loud from his lips.
"Darling!" he cried. "Darling, your arms
are round me once again! I come! I come!"
"One of the most extraordinary cases I have
ever met with," the doctor told the coroner at
the inquest. "He seemed to have all the
symptoms of excessive hæmorrhage."